by Sarah Johnson, edits & additions by Jeff Campbell
The Devastating Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Teenage Brain
Is your teen or student sleep deprived?
Chances are, the answer is yes. The CDC reports that two out of three high schoolers sleep less than 8 hours a night.
The increasing demands of schoolwork, competition for college spots and the need to maintain a social life are often cited as reasons that teenagers just don’t sleep. Parents know that less sleep makes teens tired and grumpy. However, research has shown that there are severe effects of sleep deprivation on the teenage brain.
Not sleeping enough puts teen’s health at risk. However, there is a biological reason as well.
Teenager’s brains are programmed to go to bed later at than a child’s or an adult’s.
Circadian rhythms determine when we get tired. This 24-hour cycle typically makes children and adults tired between 9 and 10 pm by releasing melatonin, a hormone that makes people feel sleepy.
However, a shift during adolescence called a “sleep phase delay” means that teens aren’t tired until 11 or 12 pm.
Couple this delay with schoolwork, social life and an early school start time and it’s no surprise that most teens are short of the sleep that they need. Thus the effects of sleep deprivation on students can be significant.
The proven ways technology can impair sleep
Another factor that compounds the effects of sleep deprivation on students is technology.
92% of teens have smartphones, according to a Pew Research study.
While this isn’t a problem in itself, it does mean that more than half of teens text in the hour before they go to sleep. Teens that reported texting before bed (or in bed) also said that they were less likely to get a good night’s sleep and feel refreshed. These teens were also at a higher risk for drowsy driving.
Thus this could be one of the deadliest effects of sleep deprivation on students.
Not sure if you or your teen has a Cell Phone Addiction Issue? Check out one of the most read posts on Middle Class Dad to learn more.
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Can technology be blamed for their poor sleep habits?
Research confirms that using electronic devices before bed can negatively impact teen’s sleep. The blue light emitted by many electronic devices tricks the brain into thinking that it is still daytime. The result is that melatonin is suppressed and the teenager doesn’t feel sleepy.
Researchers at Harvard showed that blue light could shift the circadian rhythm by 3 hours. Doing the math, if your teen’s natural sleep time is between 11 and 12 pm, texting before bed can shift it to 2 or 3 am.
Teens who don’t get sleepy until 2 am may have a hard time getting out of bed for an 8 am class.
Dive in deeper and learn more about how Technology Affects the Brain Negatively in the most highly shared Middle Class Dad post so far this year.
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— Stephen Tates (@stephentates) January 25, 2018
How does lack of sleep affect your ability to learn?
There are 2 distinct ways in which the effects of sleep deprivation on the teenage brain inhibits our ability to learn.
First when we are sleep deprived we have a harder time focusing on the tasks at hand. But going deeper, Harvard University also found that “sleep itself has a role in the consolidation of memory, which is essential for learning new information.”
In other words, one of the most devastating effects of sleep deprivation on students is how it affects their ability to remember the work both before and after learning a new subject or problem.
What percentage of students suffer from sleep deprivation?
A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that nearly 2/3 of adolescents did not get the recommended 10 hours of sleep per night. On average they found teens got closer to 7 hours.
Their study went on to say that “Adolescent sleep generally declined over 20 years”. With “the largest change occurring between 1991–1995 and 1996–2000.”
They also concluded that boys and those in more urban areas were more likely to be sleep deprived than girls and those in more suburban or rural areas.
Check out all the effects of sleep deprivation on students in this handy infographic.
So what are the . . .
5 Worst Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Students You Must Know?
1. Lower grades
Students who struggled in school (C/D/F’s) tended to sleep less than high performing students. A study showed that lower performing students got about 25 minutes less sleep than the students who earned A’s and B’s.
2. Increased risky behavior
Sleep-deprived students were more likely to drink alcohol, use marijuana and smoke cigarettes, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health that linked sleep deprivation to health-risk behaviors. The irony here is that many of those behaviors can also negatively impact sleep.
3. Increased risk of injury
According to the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics, adolescent athletes who slept less than 8 hours per night were shown to be at 1.7 times greater risk of being injured than athletes who slept more than 8 hours per night. If your teen is looking for an athletic scholarship as a means of getting to college, sleeping 8 hours a night may help him reach that goal.
4. Decreased ability to regulate emotions
When researchers deprived adolescents of 2.5 hours of sleep per night, the teens reported more being anxious, angry and confused. Their parents agreed, rating the sleep-deprived teens as more oppositional and less able to regulate their emotions.
5. Increased rates of depression
While being confrontational with parents seems an innocuous side effect, sleep deprivation also puts teens at higher risk for depression. Thus this is one of the deadliest effects of sleep deprivation on the teenage brain.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, sleep deprived teens are at an elevated risk for depression. They go on to say that “adolescents with parental set bedtimes of midnight or later were 24 percent more likely to suffer from depression than teens with parental set bedtimes of 10 p.m. or earlier.”
— FITNESS Magazine (@FitnessMagazine) March 19, 2018
The Proven Ways to Minimize the Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Students
The list of side effects for teens who get less than 8 hours of sleep night is sobering.
However, the good news is that many of these issues can be resolved by just getting more than 8 hours of sleep per night. There are some steps that you can take as a parent to make sure that your teen sleeps as much as possible.
1. Unplug before Bed
Prying your teen’s phone from her hands may be one of the more challenging ways to get her to sleep better. However, the research backs you up.
Students should put the phone away at least one hour before bedtime. This will allow the release of melatonin earlier, so your teen might be tired before midnight.
2. Keep a Consistent Schedule
Many teens have a habit of accumulating a sleep debt during the week and then sleeping for much longer hours on weekends.
While the net gain in sleep over the weekend has a positive effect, it makes going to bed on Sunday night almost impossible and doesn’t negate the physical and cognitive effects of losing out on sleep during the week.
Going to bed and getting up at the same time every morning syncs the circadian rhythm. Your teen will wake up refreshed when the melatonin gets released at bedtime.
3. Maintain a Comfortable Sleep Area
The stereotype of the dirty teen room with the lumpy mattress is far too typical. Unfortunately, clutter and discomfort have a negative impact on sleep. Try to help your teen cut down on clutter. You may also want to buy a new mattress and boxspring as your teen outgrows his childhood bed.
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4. Support Initiatives for a Later School Start Time
Since 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics has been urging middle schools and high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. However, the average start time remains around 8:00 am.
If your teen’s school is one with an earlier start time, see if you can work with the school administration to push it back. Teens’ sleep is biologically delayed. Maybe their school start time should be delayed too.
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The effects of healthy sleep on the teenage brain are overwhelmingly positive. Your teen is more likely to do well in school, regulate her emotions and avoid injury. With a few changes to a teen’s nightly routine, better sleep and a healthier life are possible.
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The author of this post is Sarah Johnson of Tuck Sleep. Tuck Sleep is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NPR, Lifehacker, Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.
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